William Kellough's controversial cases

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Here's a blog entry unlikely to make anyone happy, but here's the information I'm working with as I consider the race for District Court, District 14, Office 1.

There have been several notorious cases involving particularly heinous crimes in which Tulsa County District Judge William Kellough has lightened a sentence imposed by a jury or reduced his own sentence substantially. In one case, the reduction was grievous enough to inspire two Oklahoma State Representatives to pursue legislation to make it easier to remove judges who imposed light sentences for heinous crimes.

While Oklahoma voters have the opportunity to remove district judges at four-year intervals, that opportunity depends upon the presence of a viable opposition candidate. In a retention ballot, you can vote to oust the incumbent and allow the governor to appoint a replacement. District court races are contested and the only way to remove an incumbent is to elect his opponent.

Kellough won a contested election over Cliff Smith in 2006 for an open seat, was unopposed in 2010, and now faces former Associate District Judge Caroline Wall on next Tuesday's ballot. Kellough's endorsers include Kathy Taylor, George Kaiser, Howard Barnett, and Sharon King Davis, and Kellough has raised $77,008.00 for this campaign. Wall has raised $3,400.

Wall had been elected Associate District Judge in 2002 winning by a 60-40 margin over incumbent Deirdre Dexter. In 2006, Wall was defeated for re-election by Dana Kuehn, by the narrow margin of 1024 votes. In 2010, Wall finished fourth of five in a race for an open seat, missing the runoff by about 2000 votes.

In that 2006 race, I joined many other voices, including the Tulsa Area Republican Assembly and Oklahoma Republican Assembly, in supporting Kuehn to replace Wall. In my UTW pre-election column, I wrote, "In contrast, the performance of Caroline Wall (judgecarolinewall.com), the judge who replaced [Dexter], elicits widespread dismay. Attorneys say Wall doesn't keep up with her docket. Wall's leniency is another cause for concern -- there's a long list of cases in which Wall reduced or completely suspended jail terms for convicted murderers and sexual predators."

Below are some of the cases cited by Kellough's critics. Is Kellough too soft-headed and soft-hearted to be an effective judge? Is he allowing his own bleeding heart to overcome the demands of justice? Or is he being a good steward of the state's corrections budget by reducing sentences for remorseful felons? Would Caroline Wall be any better?

State of Oklahoma v. Larry Martin Neeley, First-Degree Murder

Neeley was charged with and convicted by a jury of the first-degree murder of a toddler. The jury had the option of finding guilt on a lesser charge, but instead found Neeley guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life with the possibility of parole. Judge Kellough suspended all but 12 years of the sentence and gave Neeley credit for the year already served because the defendant showed remorse. The prosecutor in the case, Assistant DA Jake Cain, said that Neeley changed his story in the course of the investigation. From the DA's office Fall 2009 newsletter

J.J. Hall weighed only 28 pounds in August 2008 when he died of a lacerated liver and blunt trauma to his abdomen after his mother left him in the care of Larry Martin Neeley at her home.

Assistant District Attorney Jake Cain maintained Neeley inflicted the blow that led to the toddler's death. Neeley said the child had been told not to climb on the bunk bed and admitted he jerked the child from a bunk bed ladder and said the child struck a dresser and the floor.

A Tulsa County jury in October convicted Neeley of FIRST-DEGREE MURDER in J.J.'s death and sentenced him to LIFE IN PRISON. The jury had the option to convict him of a lesser charge of manslaughter, but opted to find him guilty of murder and sentenced
him as the law instructed for first-degree murder: LIFE in prison.

In December, Judge William Kellough suspended all but 12 YEARS of the LIFE prison term, and gave Neeley credit for the year he spent in jail awaiting trial. The judge said he reduced the term because he believed Neeley was remorseful.

Cain and District Attorney Tim Harris asked the judge to follow the jury's sentence. Cain noted that Neeley changed his story as the investigation unfolded.

'As adults, we owe it to these children to protect them, because they are not able to
defend themselves," Cain said.

"J. J. wasn't doing anything other than acting like a 19-month old child that morning," Cain said.

He said he is troubled that the judge did not follow the sentence of the jury. When we take a case to a jury trial, we are bound by that verdict," Cain said.

State of Oklahoma v. John David Swyden, Second-Degree Rape of a Female under 16, Forcible Sodomy, Lewd Molestation

The news report describing Swyden's crimes:

Prosecutors say the two sisters were ages 12 and 14. Police say Swyden chatted with the 12-year-old online on a social networking site. They say the girl snuck out to meet him and that she says he forced her to perform a sex act. Later, police say, her 14-year-old sister met Swyden and had sex with him.

Swyden, 21 at the time of the offenses, pled guilty and in February 2011 was sentenced to 15 years on each charge, to run concurrently. In December 2011, Judge Kellough reduced the sentence to 10 years in prison, five years probation. The Tulsa World reported that "Kellough indicated Monday that Swyden has made progress with the aid of counseling and through the defendant's efforts to correct his own behavior."

Swyden was arrested on the Tulsa County charges while out on bond for a 2009 arrest in Creek County, in which he was charged with two counts of second-degree rape, two counts of forcible sodomy, and one count of distribution of obscene material. According to news reports, Swyden met his 13-year-old victim on Myspace. In February 2011, earlier in the same month as the Tulsa County conviction, the Creek County court sentenced him to eight years in prison, seven years probation. Unlike Kellough, Judge Douglas Golden denied a September 2011 request to review Swyden's sentence.

State of Oklahoma v. Christopher A. Anderson, first-degree rape, kidnapping, assault and battery (strangulation)

From the DA's office Winter 2013 newsletter:

The crime occurred in March 2011. Jurors sentenced Anderson to a total of 50 YEARS IN PRISON - 15 YEARS on each of three counts of Rape, 5 YEARS on Kidnapping and 6 MONTHS for assault and battery. At formal sentencing, District Judge William Kellough ordered the three 15-YEAR TERMS RUN CONCURRENTLY, reducing the sentence to a total of 20 YEARS IN PRISON.

State of Oklahoma v. Meredith Allison Howard, Child Abuse by Injury
State of Oklahoma v. Meredith Allison Howard, Child Abuse by Injury

Howard was a worker at two church-based child-care centers. She was found guilty on two charges of child abuse by injury, and was sentenced by Kellough in February 2013 to twelve years in prison followed by three years probation. Less than a year later, in December 2013, after her attorney requested a review of the sentence, Kellough reduced her sentence to a suspended sentence and released her from custody. From the DA's office Winter 2013 newsletter:

Howard was accused of inserting her finger into the vagina of a 19-MONTH OLD GIRL in November 2012 at John Knox Child Development Center. Howard claimed it was an accident while changing a diaper. The child needed surgery to repair the injury. In 2008, an 8-MONTH-OLD BOY under Howard's care received a spiral leg fracture at Kirk of the Hills Mother's Day Out program.

State of Oklahoma v. Tyler Woodson Hill, first-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of a fatality accident

Hill, who later changed his name to Tyler Woodson Basset, struck and killed a bicyclist with his pickup in April 2010 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in August 2011. Judge Kellough reduced his sentence to eight years in prison plus seven years probation. According to news reports:

Tulsa County prosecutors asserted that Hill was impaired by alcohol when he was driving a pickup that struck Vernon Worley, who was riding a bicycle in the 3100 block of North Cincinnati Avenue on April 16, 2010.

Worley, 56, of Owasso, was fatally injured. The pickup did not stop at the scene, police said.

State of Oklahoma v. Preston M. Plum, First-Degree Manslaughter

Plum killed a friend with a handgun and was sentenced in December 2008 to fifteen years in prison. In November 2009, Kellough modified the sentence to ten years in prison, five years probation. From the news story on the sentence reduction:

A Tulsa family pleaded with a judge not to reduce a killer's sentence, but the judge knocked five years off the man's 15-year sentence. The judge says the age of the suspect - 16 at the time - was a big reason why.

However, the victim was also 16 when she was shot in the face, and now her family is devastated the judge went against the jury's sentence.

Heather Garoutte was 16 years old and visiting a former boyfriend, Preston Plum, on June 30th, 2007. Records show he was smoking pot and messing with a gun that went off, shooting Heather in the face.

He says it was an accident.

"He's claiming he had the gun in his hand when the hammer got stuck so he released it," said Nicole Hicks, Heather's sister.

Plum didn't do anything to help Heather. Instead, he took off to Okmulgee County where he emptied the gun and ditched the bullets in the trash, threw the gun in a pond and got rid of his bloody clothes in a third location....

Tulsa County Judge William Kellough said this was a unique case and the first one he's modified in nearly 50 jury trials. He said the ages and the circumstances of this crime were seared into his memory, and he believed shortening the sentence was in the best interest of justice.

State of Oklahoma v. Israel Shalom Castillo

Castillo, 23 and a janitor at Victory Christian Church at the time, was charged with making a lewd or indecent proposal to a minor child. News reports say the indecent proposal was made via Facebook and that the victim was a 14-year-old girl that Castillo had met at church. Castillo pled guilty. Kellough dismissed a second charge of the use of a computer to facilitate a sex crime. The DA's office recommended a sentence of ten years in prison followed by five years on probation. Kellough instead imposed a much lighter sentence of 1.5 years in prison and 4.5 years on probation.

State of Oklahoma v. Lori June Canady, Second-Degree Rape

A 35-year-old teacher's aide pled guilty in July 2008 to second-degree rape of a 15-year-old student. Kellough imposed an eight-year suspended sentence, with no prison time.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 28, 2014 7:33 PM.

Ronald Reagan, "A Time for Choosing," 50 years ago today was the previous entry in this blog.

Oklahoma Election 2014: FOR State Questions 769, 770, 771 is the next entry in this blog.

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